January Health Beat

“Karen’s Kolumn” is researched and written by Public Health Nurse Karen Dolley. We appreciate her support and willingness to share!

January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month and January 4-10th is National Folic Acid Awareness Week. There is a reason why the two are observed in the same month.

One of every 33 babies born in the United States is born with a birth defect and birth defects cause 1 in 5 infant deaths. Seventy percent of birth defects have no known cause. Thirty percent are caused by genetic factors, environmental factors, or a combination of both. Many birth defects occur during the first three months of pregnancy when many women are not aware that they are pregnant. It is important for a woman to be aware of her own personal health, risks and behaviors BEFORE becoming pregnant.

Some of the most common birth defects include heart defects, cleft lip and palate, Down Syndrome, neural tube defects like spina bifida, and Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.

To decrease the risk of birth defects, do not drink alcoholic beverages, do not smoke cigarettes, avoid second hand smoke, and do not use illegal drugs. It is very important to get early and regular prenatal care and to take a prenatal vitamin with 400 mcg of folic acid. Folic Acid helps a baby’s brain and spine develop during the early months of pregnancy. Make sure all vaccinations are up to date before becoming pregnant. Always check with your health care provider before using any over the counter medications. Avoid contact with all rodents including hamsters, mice and guinea pigs and do not clean a cat litter box. Do not eat undercooked meat or fish that contain high amounts of mercury like shark, mackerel, or swordfish.

The Maine Birth Defects Program collects information on 22 birth defects. They help to improve access to services that may be needed by families including specialty services, resources for economic support, and resources for emotional support. The program can be reached at 287-8424 or 1-800-698-3624.

For more information about birth defects visit www.marchofdimes.com. From the March of Dimes website you can access Health Pregnancy, Healthy Baby videos covering many topics including prenatal care, folic acid for women, newborn care and postpartum care on YouTube.

The focus of National Birth Defects Prevention Month 2010 will be the importance of effective management of Type I and Type II diabetes to a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby. The chance for all types of birth defects and multiple birth defects is increased when a potential Mom has diabetes. For more information visit the National Birth Defects Prevention Network at www.nbdpn.org and the American Diabetes Association website at www.diabetes.org. The American Diabetes Association website provides sections with guidance on managing diabetes before pregnancy, prenatally, for a healthy delivery, and for after delivery. For information about the different types of diabetes and their impact on pregnancy visit www.cdc.gov.

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